Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Ciaphas Cain Test

Current song: Some Nights by fun. because RAWRRRR

Everyone - or at least, everyone worth their salt - knows the Bechdel test. For those who don't, here's wikipedia's explination!

A work passes the test if it features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Commentators have noted that a great proportion of contemporary works fail to pass this threshold of representing women.
 That's good enough for my purposes. Now,  this test is a fairly good place to start when it comes to ensure that your novel or movie isn't sexist. But, well, I've been kicking around an idea for a new test. I call it...

The Ciaphas Cain Test!

This test came to me when I finished re-reading the entire Ciaphas Cain series. For those who haven't had the chance to read them, they're a military sci-fi slash comedy series set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. This may sound odd...but it gets odder. See, Cain is the main character and he is a Commissar. In WH40K, Commissars are political officers whose main duty is to lead from the front and shoot anyone who looks like they might run away in fear.

Cain, though, is an abject coward

Hence, the comedy. Cain constantly tries to get away from the front lines, but every time he tries, he ends up being thrown into more and more dangerous situations. And, due to his luck, combat skill and idiosyncratic style of leadership (I.E, he doesn't keep shooting his officers for minor infractions) he becomes increasingly famous as a glorious HERO OF THE IMPERIUM

But the Cain Test isn't "Can your book crowbar in a sufficent number of whacky hyjinx around action scenes." 

Rather, it has to do with the side characters of the novels. For no man is an army, and thus, Cain has a bunch of other military types who he works with. In this case, the Valhallan 597th, thus named because they are A) From the ice planet Valhalla and B) because they're the combination of two decimated regiments, the 301st and the 296th. However, the shocking twist is...those two regiments? One is all male. One is all female. Thus, for the rest of the series (at least, for the parts that involve the 597th), half the side characters are women, half the side characters are men.

This...shouldn't be as rare it is, seeing as how women make up anywhere between 49 to 51% of the human race. But, for some reason (I.E, sexism), it is

The other interesting facet about the side characters in the Ciaphas Cain novels is that, of the 50/50 gender split, at least 2 of the side characters are gay. They're not "maybe" gay, they are definitely gay. The word gay isn't used, but it is still stated in no uncertain terms that Corporal Magot and Sargent Griffon are lovers. 

Now, that may not SOUND like much, but think of it this way.

The Warhammer 40,000 universe is a dystopic future of unrelenting horrors, ruled by a galaxy spanning theocracy that is like the worst parts of the medieval Catholic Church dialed up to 11 and let loose with flame throwers. It is NOT a nice place, it is NOT a tolerant place, and it sure as hell isn't a feminist, progressive place.

And yet...

It has a 50/50 gender split, and 2 queer characters.

That's more than Star Trek: The Next Generation had. Of the main cast, only 3 were women and of those three, 1 was killed off, 1 constantly wore a skintight outfit and 1 was in a traditional "caregiver" role

And I mean, it's not that hard to be "better" than Ciaphas Cain books. They're a load of fun, but no one would call them high art. They're the kind of delicious popcorn books that I love to read and love to write. But they still have a pretty solid - if not perfect - grounding in feminist ideas.

Now, what's your excuse for not meeting the CC test?  

Addendum: The only problem I can think of for this test is's hard to explain pithily. It only really works if you know what the Cain books are about and their general style and background. Otherwise, bringing it up just gets you odd looks...